SUNFLOWER SISTERS

It’s that time of year again. My three favorite months of the year are now behind us; it’s always hard for me to leave summer behind.

There is one grace, one gift of late August/early September that gives me an unparalleled high: the Kansas sunflower is in full bloom. Around Labor Day, the sunflowers start showing off again–and they have every right to.

Our mom loved sunflowers. In yet another effort to keep our parents’ spirits alive and well, Gail, Suzanne and I have taken her affinity for the Kansas state flower and formed a new appreciation for this beautiful gem.

Perhaps I am a little more extreme than they are in many ways, but I took it to the next level, complete with Mom’s signature in the leaf:

My long-lived affinity for blue moons is celebrated as well, wrapped around the sunflower. It just seemed right to pair them.

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What a gift it is to be born into a family with sisters whom you love so much. Many women aren’t so lucky, and we are fully aware of this. We had no choice but to be together, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. They are not only my sisters, they are my best friends.

Other friends are in our lives by choice. We decide who to let in, and who to keep. Sometimes friendships are made because we are drawn to a person, other times they are formed by chance.

When I went to college in 1984, I was assigned a potluck roommate. You take what you get, and this means taking a chance. I hit the jackpot with Marilyn. She was a sophomore, having learned the freshman ropes already. She was majoring in speech pathology, and I always admired her dedication to this field. It sparked my interest as well, but it took a master’s degree, and I knew I would be lucky to finish with a bachelor’s.

Greater than my interest in her field of study was our friendship. We hit it off, and we welcomed others into our circle, including my dear friend from my hometown, Tracy, as well as Denise, a friend from close to her hometown.

The four of us lived together in an apartment the next year, and the memories we made will last forever, even if some of us can’t remember certain ones. I will never forget, and will always be grateful to Marilyn for inspiring me to pursue the career I chose.

We had the opportunity to fill in each other’s memory holes this past weekend. Two years ago, we gathered to celebrate our 35-year-bond (A Time to Reap, July 2019).

We vowed to gather again every July, but last year, well, it was 2020. This year, however, we had a grand opportunity to meet. After being delayed twice to COVID, we took in a concert in the grand theater in the downtown of my small city.

This was no average concert. This was another Kansas girl, our very own Martina McBride. Even more cool than that, she hails from very close to Marilyn’s and Denise’s hometowns. When she spoke to the crowd–she made it clear how much she loves to be back home, mentioning her hometown of Sharon, Kansas, as well as her family band she grew up in: The Schiffters–her maiden name was Schiff. We were among the few hooting; Marilyn and Denise knew exactly where Sharon, Kansas was, and we were in the area to hear her years ago. Her musical family played at festivities in the area and when I went home with Marilyn in 1984 (85?) for a weekend, we had the privilege of hearing her sing at a wedding dance.

Martina played at this same theater five years ago, and we were there, too. Her legendary voice comes from such a small dynamo, but we know that Kansas girls are big, strong and mighty on the inside. Martina exemplifies this in her voice; we all waited for our favorites to be belted out, and she didn’t disappoint.

We know we are truly Blessed, and I’m pretty sure I’ve made it clear the every day should be Independence Day. If I’d had one request, however, I would have asked for the all-time great Christian song, the song that has the power to bring so much peace to a funeral: How Great Thou Art. We had it as one of the songs at our parents’ funeral, and I will never forget it. Perhaps, however, that request was granted long ago, as I will detail in a moment.

All three of these friends-for-life made the trip to be with me that day, and I will never forget that, either. All three of them know the joy of having sisters, but all three of them also know the pain of losing a sister. I cannot fathom that pain, because, as Martina sings in Blessed, I love them so much it hurts.

But both joy and pain in life, as we all know in our own ways, and from our own losses, have a way of waxing and waning. Joy, if we work at it, and let our loved ones and friends help, can override the pain. It takes work, and it takes letting those people in to share the pain, but it can be done.

Remember, sharing joy multiplies it, while sharing sorrow divides it. And never ever forget there is a force stronger than any of us at work all around us. Love is our proof of that. I have a story about more proof I found on my own, the story of my request granted.

It was in the 90’s, and my husband and I were visiting Mom and Dad on the farm. It was late summer, and the sunflowers and other wildflowers were in bloom, and the road west of our farm was a great place to take in this natural beauty. I headed out for my morning run, and put on my music–this was pre-iPod days, and the best I had was a bulky set of headphones that would tune in to local FM stations.

I almost always run to music, and these usually got me through. It was a Sunday morning, and there was a local station with a Christian music show at that hour, so I tuned in.

When I got to the curve about a mile west of the farm, the DJ announced a song from Martina McBride. I was hopeful that it would be How Great Thou Art, of course. Just two weeks prior, we were visiting Mom and Dad, and when I ran, I had the same station tuned in and her masterpiece rendition of that song played. Further, it was in almost exactly the same place I was running at that moment.

The song began, but it wasn’t that one. I don’t recall which one it was, but I know it was beautiful. The FM signal wasn’t always consistent, and it began to fade. That song faded out, and another song faded in: it was Martina McBride singing How Great Thou Art. She finished, and her first song faded back in, and it finished. The DJ came back on, commented on her beautiful voice in the other song, and went on with the show. No mention was made of what I heard. I do know what I heard, and I will believe this was a show of that great force that is always at work all around us. Sometimes we have to look for it, but sometimes, like that Sunday morning so long ago, it was presented to me, and could not be missed.

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There are many things that bond sisters together. Love and loss, life and shared memories. Friends have those same bonds. It is often said that friends are the family we choose for ourselves. I am speaking for myself, but I couldn’t have chosen better sisters. I do get to choose my friends, but they have to choose me as well, and for that, I am so thankful that Tracy, Denise and Marilyn chose me back. We are celebrating 37 years as friends this fall; we came two-by-two to Fort Hays State University, and became a circle of four.

Tracy’s gift to us two years ago were the bracelets pictured above. This year, these rings are our new shared treasures.

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The Kansas sunflower never fails to share its beauty at the close of every summer. My husband, knowing how much I love them, tried to plant a patch for me in his garden, with only one showing up.

Mark and The Sunflower Stalk

It seems that, much like some Kansas girls, they have a strong will to thrive in the wild, making their own decisions about where and when to bloom, choosing to do it in their own way. They prefer to share their gifts on their own terms, and they do it well. Leave them to act on their wisdom, and they won’t disappoint. But they never forget, just like Martina said to do as she left the stage, to take care of each other.

Just like some Kansas girls do.

THIS ONE’S FOR THE GIRLS

GROUNDHOG DAYS

“January has only one thing to be said for it: it is followed by February.” Kathleen Tynan

I hate to disappoint Suzanne, but Groundhog Day is only two days away, I don’t have an outfit planned yet, and it doesn’t look like I will be able to come up with one. Perhaps I will simply wear brown and call it good, but I’m open to ideas.

It’s not that the day isn’t worthy of a special get-up, because it is one of my favorite obscure days of the year. Plus, the movie Groundhog Day is in my top five. I will be watching it Tuesday.

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Even in the pre-pandemic years, January was typically a soul-draining month for me. The coldest and windiest part of winter is upon us, the holidays are over, and the days are short and the nights are long. I have to work harder to remind myself that brighter days are soon to follow the darker ones. This year, when I reminded myself to look closer, January offered the following joys:

*Hope for the eventual defeat of COVID began arriving in the vaccine.

*Gail, Suzanne and I got together last weekend to celebrate a late Christmas and our Mom’s birthday as well.

*After it adopted us by not leaving our door, we adopted a sweet cat. My husband has aptly named it “Katleen,” and Suzanne thinks I’m on my way to becoming a crazy cat lady. I haven’t owned a cat since I lived with both of my sisters on the farm, but it kinda feels like I need a cat at this point in my life…

*Our great state of Kansas celebrated its 160th birthday two days ago, and I dressed appropriately. I think Suzanne liked it; I’m pretty sure she meant “you’re crazy” in a good way in the return text after I sent her this picture:

One of Kansas’s locally famous daughters recommended drinking beer or wine made in Kansas to celebrate. I did my part by toasting to Kansas with a beer from Blue Skye, our local brewery.

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The best is always yet to come. One of our Mom’s greatest lessons on surviving tough times was this: Always have something to look forward to.

*Suzanne is getting married in a few weeks, and Gail and I–as well as our whole family–are almost as excited as she is.

*Since COVID prevented our epic 50th birthday party at the shore for her, Suzanne will choose her dream beach destination for a sister trip this summer–we hope.

*Gail will turn 61 years young in February, and I will turn 55 in April. While our celebrations won’t be as big as Suzanne’s–or as big as Gail’s 60th last year, we will celebrate as we always do.

A visual reminder of just how much fun was had at Gail’s 60th birthday party last year…

I don’t need to tell any of you who know the movie that 2020 felt like Groundhog Day almost every day. The same bad news over and over; the same staying-at-home pattern, the same yearning for lost social contact.

If, however, we look at our lives this past year as a chance to re-evaluate, just like the lead character Phil did in the movie, then perhaps it can be seen as a catalyst, or even a crucible whose challenges and crises provided an opportunity for personal growth.

If the same old ways in your life keep producing the same old results, well, then…you get the idea.

I have found the best way to keep the winter blues and blahs alive and well is to stay in the same routine, the same rut over and over again. It always works like a charm. So, today, as the gray skies hung low like a wet blanket, and the dreaded Kansas wind (Do I need to remind you that my crazy sisters LOVE the wind? Ugh!) tried to steal any remaining joy from the outdoor experience today, I decided to get out there anyway, and shake up my routine.

My empty-nested husband and I took a little Sunday drive north. We have the time and only ourselves to take care of, so we took care of a yearning to try something new. Because we like the small-town atmosphere of a down-home dining experience, we decided to try a new restaurant we had heard of in a roundabout way.

The Broken Arrow Cafe in tiny Aurora, Kansas was just what we needed. While we don’t recommend taking the backroads on a wet day, if you live anywhere in central Kansas, it is worth the drive to this restaurant in Cloud County, Kansas.

Happy Groundhog Day to you this Tuesday–and every day.

PER ASPERA

If you meet any one, or all of us when we are traveling outside of our home state of Kansas, and you call any one of us, or all of us Dorothy because clearly, we are not in Kansas anymore, we will not think you are funny. We have heard it a million times already. If, however, you are calling us Dorothy because she demonstrated strength, bravery and fortitude during a most difficult time, then we will be flattered. She embodied the original Ad Astra Per Aspera spirit.

Dorothy Gale, the main character in the iconic movie The Wizard of Oz, found her way home to Kansas when all hope was lost and helped others find their way as well. She demonstrated courage by facing her fears, led others out of darkness and challenged false authority like the good-natured bad-ass she was. And, her last name was Gale. Different spelling, same good-nature, same bad-ass spirit as Gail of The Sister Lode.

There’s no place like home.

Most of us, after spending record time in our homes last year, know this better than we may want to. I don’t have to explain any further, the entire world is in the same boat.

The roughly 2.9 million residents of Kansas are no different. However, we come from a long line of people just like Dorothy Gale. On January 29th, just 5 days from today, we will celebrate our state’s 160th birthday. Our state motto says it all: Ad Astra Per Aspera: To The Stars Through Difficulty. Our state was founded on this motto, and we continue to demonstrate it in good times and bad.

Gail, Suzanne and I gathered at my home on Saturday, January 23rd. Gail’s daughter Lydia had her quarterly endocrinologist appointment in Salina on Friday, and then they went on to Wichita to see Gail’s firstborn, Kate. Because Lydia has her mother’s strong We Can Do It sense of fortitude, and she is a Kansas-bred and born girl just like her mother and aunts, she has the Per Aspera spirit as well. She continues to meet the constant challenge of her Type One diabetes, and she continues to win the daily battles, as well as the war. Her checkup was as good as they could have hoped for. Just like any other hardship Gail and her offspring encounter, they plow through, to the stars through difficulty. Typically, they come out smiling on the other end. This time was no different.

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In the absence of our typical large Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations, the sisters of The Sister Lode had a gift exchange that still needed to take place. This annual event is highly anticipated between the three of us; we spare only some expense and no effort to choose the most exquisite and perfect gifts for each other.

This year was no different.

Suzanne has no live cats yet; she is searching for the perfect one. Until then, Gail found the perfect substitute:

If you grew up in our era, you probably won’t bat an eye at one of the gifts I got for Gail. She loves pillows, and this seemed perfect. If, however, you are from a generation below us, please know that this game was not considered occult when we were kids, nor do we consider it that now. Perhaps we got some really good information and guidance from the Ouija board back then, back when it was socially acceptable.

Knowing I am a patriotic American and Kansan, Gail knew I would love this addition to my Sunflower State collection of decor. Suzanne, who exaggerates, will tell you that I have a costume to match every holiday and special occasion throughout the year. She is pretty sure I will fashion an outfit out of this flag just in time for Kansas Day on Friday. Silly Suzanne, I would never desecrate our state flag like that. Besides, I already have my outfit for Kansas Day ready to go. I planned it out just after I put my Inauguration Day outfit together last week.

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Our mother would have been 84 years old last Friday, January 22nd. Because, in order to to reach those stars through difficult times, we continue to find reasons to celebrate. She would have wanted us to celebrate, with or without her. So, we did. A day late. I’m pretty sure there are no clocks or calendars in Heaven, so to her, it was no big deal. Nothing was ever a big deal to Mom; she was pretty much go-with-the-flow; along for the ride, always doing whatever worked for everyone else. If she had even one fault, it would be that she never put her needs first. Of course, that can also be a virtue, and it worked well for her.

She loved navy blue and white stripes, and while there was no memo to be missed by Gail, somehow Suzanne and I decided separately to wear those when we got together.

All three of us, however, got the other memo circulating on social media, and we invited Bernie to our celebration. We know Mom was laughing from Above, and we hope you are, too. It’s much easier to get through difficulty with laughter.

THE SEASON TO CELEBRATE

THE SEASON TO CELEBRATE

It’s that time again, and I don’t like it.  I don’t like the cooler temperatures, I don’t like the shorter days, and I don’t like the thought of cold weather returning.  Call me crazy, but I am in my element when the mercury is in the triple digits. 

I have tried for over fifty years now, but it does no good to be upset about it.  Fall still comes, and behind it, winter.  I try a little harder every year to embrace it, and I think perhaps, I may be just a bit more successful each year.

I am sitting on my porch at 8:40 p.m., feeling the cool breeze.  It is 69 degrees, and I cannot deny that it feels nice.  But with the cool evenings and mornings come the cooler days.  We have had temperatures in the forties this week, and rain for four days straight, no sun.

The backyard pool must come down, and this breaks my heart. 

However, I am seeking out the other joys that arrive only as summer begins to depart.  Like the sunflowers.  For about two glorious weeks at the end of August/beginning of September in Kansas, our state flower is in full bloom in the wild.

This year, my husband planted some in our yard, so we have our own personal blooms to savor. 

I cannot deny that I immensely enjoy this part of late summer.  When it becomes obvious that summer will soon wind down, the state flower steps it up and shows off its unparalleled beauty to remind me that nature’s splendor remains in other ways.  I simply needed to take another look.

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Not that sunflowers aren’t beautiful and grand, but Gail and Suzanne have other, more exciting reasons to celebrate. 

Gail was together with her four children and her two grandchildren two weeks ago.  Her second-born lives in Michigan, and their visits are not frequent enough.  Her grandsons live there with their mother, so these visits are an incredible highlight for all of them.

But Gail, as you already know, can make a celebration out of pretty much nothing.  I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad day or a wasted day in her life.  She chooses to let the bad roll off her back, and focus on the good.

I want to be like her when I grow up.

Both Gail and I have been married for twenty-plus years, and have lived in our homes that long as well.  Both our husbands and our homes are nothing new, but they are tried-and-true, and we are still very much smitten with both.  There are no big celebrations planned at this time, but there is no need for any.  Every day is a gift to be savored.

Suzanne has quite the opposite news.  She is getting both a new house, and a new husband.  This is super-exciting news not just for her, but for Gail and me as well.  Her husband-to-be got a 127% approval rate from both of her sisters, and while Gail has not yet seen her new house, I gave it five stars.  My husband the builder gave it five stars as well when he checked it out for her.  (This never happens.)  Guys aren’t much into approval rates, but I know he finds his future brother-in-law at least as favorable as the house. 

In the interest of her limited self-disclosure, that is really all I can tell you, and that’s enough for you to know she has a lot to celebrate right now.

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If you recall, one of our mother’s many nuggets of wisdom she shared with us was this:  Always have something to look forward to.

In this year of COVID, our excursions have been greatly limited.  Last weekend, however, my husband and I ventured out to western Kansas to see some of our Sunflower State’s natural beauty that we had not yet taken in.

Topped off by an overnight stay at Gail’s house—along with patio sitting, we had a lot to look forward to last week, and none of it disappointed.

This week, I am anticipating a long-overdue trip with a dear friend.  No details at this point, but suffice it to say that even though our backyard pool came down already, my time splashing in the sun is not done yet for this year. 

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Two years ago this fall, I featured a group of six sisters we know who take annual sister trips—all six of them, which makes us look like amateurs, which we are.  This week, they have been celebrating in Michigan, very close to where Gail’s daughter lives.

May their annual celebrations continue to inspire us, and hopefully you, too.  They set the bar high for making it all work, but when family and fun are priorities, they show us that the sky is the limit. 

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I am sitting on the porch again, this time I am savoring the sunshine and 80-degree temperatures.  The weather is simply splendid, even if it lacks perfection by 20 degrees in my book.  The humidity, however, is a breathable 44%, and I cannot deny I do love that part. 

I am working harder than ever to savor every beautiful day of the fall, even if I know that means the cold will be here soon.  I am working on savoring the cold days, too.  Life is too short and too beautiful not to at least try. 

Kansas has four beautiful seasons, and each one is distinct in its gifts.  The hardest gift for me to accept—no matter which season—is the blessed/cursed Kansas wind.  Gail and Suzanne call it blessed, I call it cursed.

Suzanne’s new house is tucked away on an almost-secret street in our small city, surrounded by trees.  I don’t think she realized until I pointed it out to her that she would not have full benefit of the wind.  This may have been a small downer for her, but the wind, along with all the other simple things to celebrate, are always able to be found somewhere.

Sometimes, we just have to look a little bit, and sometimes, we have to look at them differently in order to call them celebrations. 

But they are always there.

HOME Swheat HOME

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HOME SWHEAT HOME

Yesterday for lunch, I enjoyed a turkey sandwich. For dinner—or supper, as we call it on the farm, I had a juicy burger in a soft bun. I savored a sliver of single crust raisin cream pie for dessert.

Last week, our family had take-home pizza, and we enjoyed every bite. I made a cake for dessert, and today, we plan to partake of a loaf of whole-wheat take-and-bake bread.

All these goodies are made possible courtesy of wheat, the staple crop of Kansas.

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Yesterday, after I enjoyed that turkey sandwich, I took off for my annual trip to the harvest field. My brothers had an afternoon of cutting left; harvest took place this year in between the rains. I was worried they would finish before the weekend, but there were a few hours of harvest left for me to enjoy. I haven’t missed a harvest since 1990. It is the high point of the year on the farm, the time of year that brings back my fondest farm-girl memories.

Along with our four brothers, Gail, Suzanne and I grew up on this farm in north-central Kansas. It is now a fourth-generation Kansas family farm, and this heritage gives me untold pride. Two of our four brothers continue to demonstrate stellar stewardship of our family legacy, and I cannot express in words how grateful I am to them for that. Our nephews show promise to maintain this legacy in the future, and this sense of family attachment to our parcel of the Kansas earth is something that will continue to give me a secure sense of home.

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The house we grew up in–the house that built us, was over 100 years old when we lived there. It housed us all for many years, but it was time for it to come down. It’s spirit lives on, and one of our brothers lives on with his family in a new house built just up the driveway from where it stood. A garden now occupies that spot, a fitting tribute to the plot of land that grew our family.

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At the crest of the hill that slopes down on one’s final mile to our farm, the panoramic view is one that never fails to warm me. It was already 90-plus degrees, but I welcome this kind of warmth, no matter what the temperature is.

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Much of our family’s land lies “over west” from our farm, the term we have always used to refer to the farm ground several miles west of our farm. Today, however, the remaining wheat was within view of the farm; I don’t remember a trip where I was able to enjoy the proximity of the farm for my afternoon in the harvest field.   The two combines worked across the road from each other, and the two semi-trucks were kept busy being filled and refilled.

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I hopped into my brother’s combine when I arrived; his son ran the other combine across the road. This time in the cab is the best view of the action, as the reels comb the wheat into the header to begin the process of separating the wheat from the chaff.

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The tractor-driven grain cart allows the combine to continue cutting without stopping to drive to the semi.  The tractor pulls up alongside the combine, moving forward along with the combine as it simultaneously dumps a load and continues to fill the bin.

A local farmer once told our dad the story of his city-slicker relative who came to the farm for harvest, and, upon observing this sight, commented:

“It’s amazing how that reel pulls the combine through the wheat.”

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Amazing indeed if that were how it worked, but it’s more complicated than that. Life is usually never as easy at it looks to the unaware eye, and this situation is no different. In the end, though, the wheat is separated from the chaff, carried to the bin and awaits its turn to be dumped into the truck.

Some of the wheat is stored on the farm in a bin as seed wheat for next year’s crop,

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Business decisions between the farmers are made at all phases of the harvest.

and the rest is transported to the elevator down the road.

The other half of my harvest agenda is a trip in the big rig to the elevator.

The truck is first weighed and the driver identifies the account,

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Then the wheat is dumped from the truck into the pit.

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The hopper is wide open to dump the wheat down into the pit

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Where it awaits its vertical trip up into the elevator and is eventually hauled away by train.

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The elevator hand closes the hopper, and we’re off for another weigh-in to determine the amount of grain deposited.

And then we head back to the field to do it all over again multiple times. Except this year, there was only one more load remaining. My brother informed the elevator hand he would be back only one more time; their harvest work is almost done this year for my brother, and for most area farmers.

This year, unlike any other year I can remember, I got to savor the sweet smell of fresh-cut alfalfa, as the farmer they hire to swath this beautiful and fragrant livestock feed did his rounds in the field next to the wheat field we were in.

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My brothers don’t own a swather; it is one of the few jobs they hire out.

Our younger brother took a panoramic video of our farm from atop the grain bin:

 

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Knowing that my family—and that grilled burger will be waiting for me for supper, I head out after the elevator trip. Not, however, before I make a cruise through our small hometown.

The long hill to town marks the ascent out of the beautiful valley our farm inhabits.

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At the top of the hill, four miles away, our hometown pops into view.

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The warm memories of my youth flood back as I see the school we all graduated from,

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The church we all grew up in,

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And our parents’ final resting place.

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Our childhood home may no longer stand, but this community—the community that built us—still stands. Despite the demise of much of Small Town America, Tipton, Kansas has continued to survive and thrive as the even-smaller-than-it-was-when-we-grew-up-there dot on the map, but as a community, its members know the importance of keeping it alive.

I will forever be grateful for our beginnings in this town, and to its current members for sustaining its legacy with hard work and pride.

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Even though I grew up on a farm, I am helpless to drive a combine or truck. For the most part, our four brothers helped Dad, and the girls helped Mom. I can, however, still make a mean cherry pie and fry up a big chicken dinner on command.

Gail, however, was the Swiss Army Knife who could do it all because she had to. She could probably even figure out how to haul wheat in that big rig if she had to; she learned how to drive a smaller grain truck that is mostly phased out of most modern farm operations. She doesn’t have a CDL that would allow her to legally drive it, but in a pinch, Gail’s resourcefulness would surface. I wouldn’t get near that driver’s seat, but Suzanne reports she did drive a short distance on a dirt road with a lot of assistance from our brother in the passenger seat.

The high-tech combines of today may confound Gail, but I know she handled the older ones with ease.  Both Suzanne and I attempted a quick spin in the combine several summers ago, but again with assistance right next to us in the cab.  Another one of our brothers dutifully and gladly takes a harvest leave every summer from his gig as an airline captain to pilot that behemoth machine, which is much appreciated by our farmer brothers. While he has an autopilot in the cockpit, the combine requires hands-on attention at all times.

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Some of the big cottonwoods still stand on the farm,

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And the woods behind the house where we explored, hiked, built forts and sometimes hid out still stand.

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Our farm-girl heritage still stands within each of us. We still know the value of hard work, we aren’t afraid to answer the call in nature if we have to—our house had one bathroom for nine people, and we know where our bread comes from–and the work involved in bringing it to us.

I have to wrap up and enjoy my Sunday dinner. My Mark-of-all-trades husband cooked up a steak lunch for us—dinner, as it is called on the farm—complete with a loaf of take-and-bake bread.

I know where it came from.

Swheat.

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THE BEAUTY OF JUNE

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THE BEAUTY OF JUNE

“I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June.”                L.M. Montgomery

Second only to July in my book, June is one of the most splendid months of the year.

My mind and heart hearken back to my childhood, where June meant the beginning of the three carefree months of no school, hot weather, picking cherries, swimming lessons, Father’s Day and the beginning of wheat harvest. The cherry-picking and swimming lessons weren’t always good memories then, but they are now. I love to swim, and I am so glad our parents took the time and effort to make sure we knew how. I was scared of the water when I first started, but not anymore.

I hated to pick cherries then, but I love it now. I remember Mom waking us up early to beat the heat with our cherry-picking. We climbed our two cherry trees with a small bucket, and didn’t get down until it was full. This was followed by an afternoon of pitting cherries at the kitchen sink. It was torture then; I love it now. My husband planted a cherry tree for me in our backyard several years ago, but the frost got the blooms this spring, so there will be no cherries this year.   I did just find a bag in the freezer from last year, so that will still make a good pie.

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LAST YEAR’S CHERRY HARVEST

Today, June 21st, 2020, is Father’s Day. My family gathered at our in-laws to celebrate the fathers in the family. Good food, drink and company were enjoyed by all, as we always do when we gather there. Father’s Day has become a sweet-bitter observation, instead of the mostly bitter day that I felt for the first handful of years after our dad was gone.

To anyone who has recently lost their father, who feels only the bitter, my heart breaks for you. But, I want to let you know that time heals, and in the coming years, Father’s Day will be sweet-bitter for you, too.

I promise.

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LAST YEAR’S WHEAT HARVEST

I remember celebrating most Father’s Days of my youth in the harvest fields. Dad and my brothers would be hard at work cutting and hauling wheat. This year, harvest has not yet started on our farm, nor is there much harvesting happening where I live, 80 miles south of there. The wheat harvest begins first in the south and moves north as the climate dictates.

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30 miles south of my home, a farmer is moving his combine to the field to cut. Note the red machine, vs. the green. My International-Harvester farm-girl heart will always favor the red ones.   I don’t mind getting stuck behind slow-moving farm machinery, because they feed me, too.

Today, however, the climate here is one of unrest, as we wait for severe thunderstorms to roll in, further delaying the onset of harvest.

Aside from the fly in the ointment that storms cause for harvest-hungry farmers, these storms are another thing I like about June.

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Garage sales and lemonade stands are another sure sign of summer.

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Last night was the summer solstice. The annual “longest day of the year.” The sun shone longer in the sky than any other day, and I always observe this peak day. The days will slowly, almost imperceptibly become shorter day by day until the winter solstice occurs on December 21st. I crave sunlight, and welcome each lengthening day until the summer solstice, and now, knowing that the days will get shorter, I will again welcome the longer days starting in December.

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We were at our brother’s house near our family farm for the last year’s winter solstice. Here, the sun is setting on the shortest day of the year.

July will arrive in nine days. So will our annual guests. I will eagerly welcome both, and we will celebrate the first week of July together.

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July, with it’s honor of being the hottest month of the year in Kansas, as well as a week with some of my favorite friends, Independence Day—my second favorite holiday, and perhaps a family vacation, is my favorite month of the year. My three favorite things about Kansas are July, June and August—in that order.

Because I was born in mid-April, I came into being in July. Perhaps this is why I love July so much. Independence Day, with its fireworks, food, family and freedom, should be savored year-round, keeping its spirit alive in our hearts all year, just as we should with Christmas.

Independence–to me, means letting go of those things that hold us back and limit our happiness. With or without fireworks, it means freedom. None of us who enjoy this liberty should ever take it for granted.

As I anticipate another Fourth of July, I am delighting in decorating my home in a patriotic theme. I started on Flag Day—another great thing about June that occurs on the 14th. Today—Father’s Day, I am holding the memory of our dad close to my heart. I am also celebrating the father who made me a mother, and doing all I can to savor the beauty in every day, no matter how many minutes of sunshine it offers me.

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Our dad enjoying a lunch break in the harvest field.

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Last night’s fiery sunset was a fitting exit for our brightest star, shining longer than any other day of the year.

Happy summer solstice, happy summer, happy Father’s Day, and Happy June to you.

It’s a beauty of a month.

10,000 STEPS

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10,000 STEPS

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Lao Tzu

“Sometimes we make the process more complicated than we need to. We will never make a journey of a thousand miles by fretting about how long it will take or how hard it will be. We make the journey by taking each day step by step and then repeating it again and again until we reach our destination.”                   —Joseph B. Wirthlin

“Step with care and great tact, and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act.” —Dr. Seuss

“Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy and serenity.”             —Thich Nhat Hanh

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I remember watching Gail with great fascination when she got a Fitbit® several years ago. She was so excited about measuring her steps. She is always on the go, so it made sense that she would want to know just how many steps she took in a day. I also recall a dear woman, a wife of a dear home health patient, explaining her Fitbit®, too. She is a mover and shaker as well, so she, too, wanted to know how many steps she was taking every day.

I got a fitness tracker for Christmas. I never thought I would want one, but I did. I figured with my daily run, I was getting enough steps in. But something kept telling me to give it a shot. So, I did.  I didn’t need the fanciest one, just one to measure my steps. I was curious to see how many I took in an average day.

The set-up process required someone who knew more about gizmos like this than I did (my 19-year old son), and a goal. A number of daily steps to aspire to that would be entered into the device.   I thought 10,000 sounded like a good number, so I started there.

The first day I wore it, I exceeded the goal by a long shot. I completed 20,000-plus steps. However, that was not an ordinary day.

That day, like yesterday, I took a hike. Literally. That day, I hiked the nearby beautiful Konza Prairie Trail with my best hiking buddy.

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It is listed as one of the 8 Geographic Wonders of Kansas (www.kansassampler.org), and if you haven’t been there, put it on your list.

Yesterday, I hiked it with my husband and two sons. We’d been talking about doing it forever, and yesterday was the day. My firstborn just completed his degree at nearby Kansas State University in December, and we always said we would do it while he was there.

But we didn’t, and it was time.

It was abundantly sunny but windy, with a high of 49 degrees.  By Kansas standards in February, it was a nice day. So, we took advantage.

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It is a Kansas masterpiece; truly a wonder of nature. It is breathtaking in all seasons, and I have featured it in other posts as well.

So, please, go take a hike.

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After the trail, we checked out Pillsbury Crossing, another wonder of Kansas nature that was close to Manhattan.  Our son had been there several times, it is a beautiful water fall with a reputation among the college students as a fun nature hangout.

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It was a great day on our feet.

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Ten thousand steps sounds daunting, and if I didn’t take my daily run, I wouldn’t normally reach my goal. I am usually around 6,000 steps when I get back, so I’ve got a great head start early in the morning. Most days I reach my goal, some days I come close. I think there have been a few days when I didn’t even reach 9,000 steps. And there were two days when I was in bed sick, so those don’t count.

Two nights ago, I needed just 127 more steps to reach 10,000, and I was ready to go to bed. Not one to let a goal that close slip from my grasp, I went to the basement a few times; there was always something in the laundry room I could tend to. A few laps around the house, and I felt that gratifying double vibration on my wrist: I made it. Then, I went to bed.

The night before that, in the cold-but-calm February evening under an almost-full moon, I pushed myself out the door to walk the driveway a few times. The moon made it light enough to see, and made it worth the effort.

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I am a mature, educated, reasonable and logical woman who doesn’t normally fall for cheesy rewards or flaky reinforcement. That little pulsation on my wrist, however, makes me go the extra few steps, makes me push myself a little harder.

Yet, I continue to circle the parking lot, looking for a closer space.  Circling, even as I composed this blog in my mind as I often do throughout the week, I kept looking for a closer space.  I fully realize this incongruity.

I’m the only one who knows or cares about these 10,000 steps. Clearly, I am like most other humans in this respect: we all like to be rewarded for our efforts, even if it is just a little buzz on my wrist. Yesterday, just as we embarked on the trail, I got that little buzz. And I hadn’t even started hiking yet. I knew my tally for yesterday would be stellar, and it was. It was second only to the other time I hiked the same trail.

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This morning, I woke after a good night’s sleep, ready to get back out there and get more steps. I commenced my run before the wind picked up, and, at 31 degrees, it was beautiful. It felt so good, in fact, that I went the extra mile—literally. My legs felt strong and lithe after the hike yesterday, so I kept going. I felt like Forrest Gump. When I got home, I had over 7,500 steps, and it was just after 9:00 a.m.

I sent up a little thank you for this wondrous ability to move my legs, to take thousands of steps every day.

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I have been seeing an amazing woman for home health speech therapy for several months. She had a massive stroke last summer, and survived against all odds. She is wheelchair-bound, but keeps pushing forward, keeps giving it 127%, and keeps smiling.  Her faith and fortitude match that of her family, and she is not just strong, she is herculean.   I don’t think she realizes that she inspires all of us.

She is one year younger than me.

She has an amazing physical therapy team, and several weeks ago, I arrived at the tail end of her physical therapy session. She was elated, because with the physical support from her walker and her therapist, she walked across her kitchen. It was, perhaps ten steps. Not ten thousand, but ten. And, for her, this was an amazing victory, likely feeling like ten thousand steps. I felt so honored to be there right after it happened, to be an almost-witness to this victory.  She inspires the inspired.

I thought about my daily goals. Ten thousand steps. Every day, I am physically able to take those ten thousand steps and many more. I don’t think about each step like she does, I simply do it, as I have done all my life. I don’t count them, my tracker does that for me. After seeing her joy with just ten—or perhaps a few more—steps, I felt guilty for not savoring every step, for not being over-the-moon grateful for every single one of them.

I find myself taking this ability for granted. You would think, that after 25 years in this field, after seeing hundreds of people lose this ability, that I wouldn’t take it for granted. Yet, I still do.

Shame on me.

Instead of shame, however, I will offer more gratitude for this wondrous ability, this ability to move my body wherever I want to take it. Roughly half of the geography of the human body is dedicated to movement via our legs and hips, which reflects the importance of simply walking. Running, hiking and anything beyond walking are yet additional gifts.

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I have featured my Arizona friends in a few previous blogs.   Yesterday, Tana, age 47, completed 53,273 steps in her first—and last, she says today—marathon.

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She crossed the finish line with her friends, with incredible pain in her legs, but she finished.  (far left.)

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She began training only last year at age 46, and required cortisone injections in both knees to keep going.   Yet, she kept going. She, too,  inspires the inspired.

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Our mom was a walker, too. I remember her frequently taking off for walks on our country roads, setting a good example for all of us.

I called Suzanne one evening last week, and she and a friend were just returning from a walk.

Gail called me one evening last week while she was out walking, as she gets out and gets her steps in several times a week. She was a bit breathless, but she kept moving her legs as we talked. She made a comment about the moon, knowing I like to watch the moon, too. In her usual humorous style, she posted this after her walk:

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She might not be getting as many steps in lately, because she is having too much fun in her new ride:

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To treat herself for her upcoming 60th birthday, she brought this gem home, purchasing it from a local woman who could no longer drive. “Lola” is a 1974 Chevrolet Nova. Lola wasn’t a showgirl, as the Barry Manilow song may suggest, but Gail said she is now. In her usual humorous style, Gail is having the time of her life with Lola, cruising and carousing about town.

Gail and I had a Sunday morning phone conversation a bit ago. She expressed how excited she is about her upcoming birthday, and the celebrations sure to unfold. She understands that age and ability are gifts not to be taken for granted, and she is celebrating them. I checked with her to make sure, but I already knew the answer: she would love to hear from you to add to her birthday joy on or before February 21st:

Gail Britt

810 South 6th St

Atwood, KS 67730

If you’ve read much of my blog, she probably feels like your big sister, too.

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Take a walk, take a hike, or take a run. If you are able to, simply move your legs, and be sure to be grateful for the ability to do so. Our beautiful state of Kansas has so much outdoor glory to offer, so whenever possible, get out there and enjoy it. If you don’t live in Kansas, I’m sure your state—or country—has natural beauty to enjoy as well.

Sometimes, the hardest part of moving your body is just getting started. Start small. Walk around the block or to the mailbox. Once you get started, it’s easier to keep going. Action begets action. Walking begets walking. Hiking and running beget hiking and running, too.

That journey of however many steps begins with a single step.

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“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the hell she is. — Ellen Degeneres

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If you live in, or plan to visit Kansas, please get yourself a copy of this guidebook from the Kansas Sampler Foundation  (www.kansassampler.org.)  It features all the wonder and beauty of outdoor Kansas, as well as indoor sights, historic locations, one-of-a-kind stores, restaurants and manmade wonders from every town in the state.  It makes a great gift, I gave Suzanne one for Christmas, and Gail just might get one in her birthday package, too.

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Penner, Marci and Rowe, WenDee.  The Kansas Guidebook 2 for Explorers.  2017,  Newton, Kansas, Mennonite Press.

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SISTERS OF THE SOUTH WIND

 

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SISTERS OF THE SOUTH WIND

I have made it abundantly clear that I love my sisters. We are harmonious toward each other, even in the face of potential differences of opinion about politics, religion, genetic cloning perhaps, even public nudity, if it were to become an issue. I consider them my best friends, and they are my first line of defense when I need a go-to friend to help me get through a crisis, solve a problem, or someone to cry to. However, there is one issue, one topic that I stand diametrically opposed to Gail and Suzanne on, and I cannot go to them with this problem, because it is not a problem for them.  They simply don’t understand. In fact, they feel just the opposite.  If there is a scar on the face of our otherwise beautiful sisterly triad, it is this: Gail and Suzanne love the wind, and I loathe it.

Further, I know I am the sensible one here, and they are the insane ones. I mean, really. What kind of person loves the wind?

In my post Weather Girls (January 28th, 2018), I wrote about just how much they really do love the wind. And, if you know either of them very well, you will likely know this fact about them. And, hopefully, you side with me and realize they are indeed crazy.

Gail loves it so much, that she has thought about changing her name to Gail Force Winds.

But enough about this fundamental difference between them and me. Let’s get down to the business of making peace with this stumbling block. That’s what we are all about, after all. I’m trying to create optimism and positivity here.

Clearly, I know wind is a fact of nature that cannot be eliminated or altered. It cannot be escaped in Kansas. As a matter of true fact, our state’s name is from the Native Americans, and it means People of the South Wind.

I know in my heart, mind and soul that no amount of lamenting or complaining about the wind will change it. As a general policy in my life, I try very hard not to complain about things I cannot change, and if I can change something, I try not to complain about it. Yet, I continue to complain.  Gail and Suzanne remind me that nothing I say or do will change it, so why not embrace it? I have tried, but to no avail—yet.

This morning—November 17th, I awoke to a beautiful, calm, 40-degree sunny morning. The flag was beautifully still,

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The pampas grass wasn’t moving,

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and neither were the remaining leaves on the trees.

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I enjoyed a morning run, but by the time I returned, all this had changed. The northwest wind was blowing, the trees and the flag were moving and the pampas grass was swaying. It was tolerable, but it was there. It is generally a fact of life in Kansas.

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Today, we are The People of the Northwest Wind.

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Wind is generally a fact of life, no matter where you go, even to Colorful Colorado, where we just visited two weeks ago.

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It seems, however, that Kansas has more than its share. I don’t mind the wind in the summer. I rather enjoy the feeling of a blast furnace when the strong winds blow in the 100-degree plus summer heat. Call me crazy. Go ahead, I know you want to. I’ll take that weather any day over the cold.

do like the wind for several reasons, at the right time, at the right speeds.  First, it keeps the bugs away in the summer.  Second, I rely upon it to dry my laundry on my back-porch redneck clothesline, all year round.  Here it is, doing its job today, as well on the front porch.  If you look under the flag in the picture above, you will see the wind at work.

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I like the cold when the wind isn’t blowing. Give me a sunny, calm, sub-freezing day, and I’m happy. My favorite running weather is just that: 20°, sunshine and zero wind. Throw in some snow on the ground, and it’s perfect.

Again, call me crazy.

As soon as the wind kicks in, however, all bets are off. It’s a complete deal-breaker. If the skies are gray too, I find myself wanting to hole up in my basement where I am oblivious to the weather conditions outside.

Because, I realize, the weather conditions outside play a big role in determining my weather conditions inside. I am solar-powered, and without the sun for an extended stretch, I feel gray, too.

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We grew up in a 100-year old+ farmhouse. Gail and I shared an upstairs bedroom on the north, and Suzanne moved in with me when Gail moved out. I remember the cold north wind freezing us out; the house wasn’t exactly insulated well. I remember the wind whistling and howling in the winter as we shivered in bed.   The house came down a few years ago, but I will never forget it. Most of the memories were good ones, and I will be forever grateful for the shelter it provided.

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Our north bedroom window was the large one upstairs.

My bedroom now is upstairs on the north side of the house. When the north wind howls in the winter now, I send up a silent thank you for the warm and well-insulated home I now live in. At least once every winter, I try to tell my Mark-of-all-trades husband thank you for building it so well to keep us warm.

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Last Monday was Veteran’s Day. As I age, I continue to deepen my gratitude for the freedoms that were won for me, and protected still by active military.   I know that none of us can ever repay the veterans for their sacrifices, so a deep sense of gratitude is the least they deserve from us.

The temperature was about 20° Monday morning, and the feels like index, according to the weatherman, was 2°.  The north wind was brutal and blowing a light snow, and it simply wasn’t safe or smart to be out in it if it wasn’t necessary.

I depend on my morning run to start my day, and to keep me running all day. Quite simply, if I don’t run, I don’t run. If I wanted to get any exercise in that day, it would have to be on the dreaded elliptical trainer in my basement. So, that’s what I did. I realized as I ticked off the minutes, however, that it was fitting that I had to sacrifice just a little freedom on this sacred day. Still, I didn’t like it one bit.

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As fall continues to fall, and so do the temperatures, I feel the annual sense of dread and doom, the specter of internal darkness that begins to hover over and around me when I know that winter will soon be here. The days continue to get shorter—only 34 days until they get longer again, but who’s counting—and this darkness tries to pervade my sense of happiness.

I know the cold winter is almost here, and from all professional prognostications I have heard, it’s going to be a bad one. And by bad, for Kansas that usually means lots of snow, icy conditions, colder temperatures and strong north winds.  I could make it through with a smile if not for the blasting north winds.

This autumn, however, I have made a conscious effort to savor the beautiful weather and splendid show of color Mother Nature provides every year at this time. It’s working a little better that usual. But it’s not enough to fend off the winter-is-coming blues.

I have committed myself to Kansas, and it is my home. It is in my heart and soul; it is the land that shaped my past and will continue to positively influence my future. If I had to name my least favorite aspect of Kansas, it would be the wind. It is the fly in the ointment, the pock mark on an otherwise beautiful face.

So, dear reader, here is my request: Surely many (most?) of you feel the way I do about the wind. If you do, and you have some positive insight/affirmation/encouragement, I want to hear it. I want to know how you get through the cold, windy days and nights. I want to remain smitten with Kansas, and if I can make peace with the wind, I would be a much happier camper when the cold winter winds blow.

We’re all in this together, and I am hoping you can help me. The struggle is real, folks. I need help, and I am reaching out to anyone who may have some to offer. Gail and Suzanne, as dear as they are to me, are useless in this fight, because they don’t see it as a fight. Again, I think they are a little crazy, but I try to respect their likes and dislikes.

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My husband spent many years constructing buildings in every kind of weather. While he did his time in hard labor, and now manages projects instead of building them, he feels the same way I do about the wind.   He knows his sisters-in-law love the wind, and more than once after a day in the wind, he would cuss them to me. I always understood. It would go something like this:

I’d like to see them take a sheet of metal and try to get it up on a roof in this wind without sailing away, or getting their hands sliced open when the wind tears it out of their hands.”

My neighbor stopped by this morning, and, without me complaining first, she said, “I can’t stand the wind. It’s depressing.”  Obviously, I concur.

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I often go to senior living facilities to see my home health patients. I noticed a pattern several years ago, one that serves to offer me wisdom, should I choose to accept it.

In many facilities, there are outdoor patios. Many of these patios are adorned with wind chimes. It struck me, one windy winter day, while looking up at three stories of apartments with their patios/balconies, that so many of the residents had wind chimes hanging outside. Could it be, that in their wisdom from their years of (likely) living in Kansas, that they are choosing to celebrate the wind, rather than bemoaning it, like I do? Could it be that simply accepting this fact, and maybe even celebrating it with things like wind chimes would offer me much-needed inner peace on cold, windy days? Perhaps. And that is why I am asking for your help, because clearly, I am not achieving it on my own.

I will continue to find peace in so many other naturally beautiful aspects of Kansas, especially the sunrises and sunsets.

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Next weekend, I am gallivanting off for more fun, this time with friends, so there will be no post. I am celebrating a birthday for a dear friend, along with another dear friend. Like me, the birthday girl is in and out of her car all day as part of her work. Like me, she loathes the wind. Any advice you have for me will also be a birthday gift for her.

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She gave me this beautiful piece of outdoor art with the sun face on it several years ago for my birthday, and last spring, I caught it capturing the brilliant light of the sun as it rose.

Hanging just above it are my own wind chimes. This morning and this afternoon,, they are silent, hanging on the east side of the porch.  Next time they  offer me beautiful music. I will choose to listen.

The lines are open for your comments. I appreciate any an all advice and inspiration you have to offer on how you cope with the wind, no matter what state you live in.

Thank you.

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I believe when we lose a loved one, they remain with us in so many other ways, but we have to be open to them. This morning, I sat down to write this post, knowing I was writing about the weather. I decided to first read the day book that belonged to my mother, a book I gave her that she loved, highlighting her favorite parts. Some days, she highlighted the title, which I interpret to mean that she liked the whole thing.   Many days, she speaks to me, telling me exactly what I need to hear through the highlighted parts. This morning, she did just that. *

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*Sarah Ban Breathnach, 1995, Simple Abundance:  A Daybook of Comfort and Joy.  Warner Books, New York, New York.  

THE SIMPLE KANSAS SUNFLOWER

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THE SIMPLE KANSAS SUNFLOWER

According to popular, but erroneous national sentiment, Kansas doesn’t have much to offer.  “Fly-over country,” we’ve been called.  As if there’s nothing to see here.

We—the sisters of The Sister Lode—are here to tell you differently.  Kansas is our born-and-raised home state, and we aren’t backing down on our stand that there’s plenty to see here. 

But this is not a post about Kansas tourism.  That would require a blog of its own.   This is a post about one simple thing–Kansas’s state flower:   the sunflower.

Our mom liked sunflowers.  And, like the topics of so many other good memories of both Mom and Dad, the sunflower has been elevated in status for all three of us.  It’s timeless beauty, and classic, iconic face have made it a favorite for so many people–not just Kansans, and not just us.

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They are still in bloom right now—although nearing the end of their annual fashion show, so now is a perfect time to extol their virtues.

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 “Weeds are nature’s graffiti.”   J.L.W. Brooks

The sunflowers gracing the fields and ditches at this time of year are primarily a weed.  They are very common across the United Sates—except for the Southeastern U.S.–and parts of central Canada. They grow well in soils of dry to medium moisture, as well as sand and clay.

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I don’t care that they are classified as weeds.  As A.A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh states, “Weeds are flowers, once you get to know them.”

While there are sunflowers planted as crops,

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this blog is not about them.  I recall that Dad did try to plant sunflowers as a crop once or twice, but he didn’t make it an annual thing.

A common misconception is that sunflowers follow the sun across the sky every day.  While this is true for young, immature sunflowers, the fully mature plant will continue to face east throughout the day, as its head is too heavy and the stalk has become too inflexible to move.

Because the young plants follow a circadian rhythm, they will turn from east to west even on cloudy days.  They re-orient themselves overnight to the east to begin the process over every day.

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The plants are harvested for their seeds, of course, to be used not only for human consumption, but for birdseed as well.

Sunflower oil is also an economically important product of the sunflower.

Because I am enthralled to learn new, useless trivia, here is some I learned online about the sunflower, just in case you, too, may enjoy such trivial matters:

*The sunflower is the only flower with “flower” in its name.

*There are 67 species of sunflower and multiple varieties of each species.

*Sunflowers can be used to extract toxic ingredients from the soil, such as lead, arsenic and uranium.  They were used to help clean up the area after the Russian Chernobyl disaster.

*The earliest examples of domesticated sunflowers in the U.S. were found in Tennessee, and date to around 2300 B.C.

*Among Zuni people, the fresh or dried root is chewed by the medicine man before sucking venom from a snakebite and is ceremoniously applied via poultice to the bite.

*The sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine.

*Sunflowers were worshipped by the Incas because they viewed it as a symbol for the sun.

*Once the sunflower heads are empty, they can be converted into scrubbing pads for tough jobs.

*I may, or may not, have a wheat tattoo to honor Dad.  I may, or may not get a sunflower tattoo to honor Mom.  (That wasn’t from the web.)

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I like the sunflower because it reminds me of Mom.  Gail and Suzanne show it proudly as well.

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But I like it for other reasons, too.  I, too, live by the sunlight, and if I could, I would follow the sunlight every day.  Unlike Gail and Suzanne–who like any and all weather–cloudy days bring me down.  It reminds me of the sun; it is named the “sunflower” not only because it follows the sun, but because its face simply looks sunny.

I realize I am like the sunflower in that I like to follow the sun from east to west every day.  I get a certain high from taking in a beautiful sunrise from my porch.

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And an equal high from watching the sunset—this picture was taken just last night facing west from my driveway.

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We are extending an open invitation to anyone who would like to discover why Kansas is not fly-over country.  It is drive-through-and-around country, it is drive-here-and-discover country.

Kansas is our beautiful home, and the sunflower is our beautiful, iconic cover girl.  It will soon be past its splendid prime, but Kansas will stay beautiful in its own right throughout the year.

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Don’t just fly over.  If you do, you’ll miss not only the sunflowers, but the sunrises, the sunsets and everything beautiful in between.

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Mom’s tastes were simple.  The sunflower may be a simple weed indeed, but she knew that sometimes, simple is best.

KISS:  Keep It Simple, Sunflower.

 

 

 

 

SWHEAT GIRLS PART THREE: LETTING FREEDOM RING

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SWHEAT GIRLS PART THREE:  LETTING FREEDOM RING

I have featured this pair of amazing sisters in two previous posts after their annual visits to my home.  (Swheat Girls Part One and Two, July 2017 & July 2018).  They bring their families every Independence Day week from their homes in the Phoenix area.  I treasure their visits; we have maintained contact since 1984.  Tana and Amy began as the girls I babysat in the summers; now they are the women I am lucky to call my lifelong friends.  

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This year, they told me they used to spend the weekends sitting in their rooms on the farm, bored until I returned Monday morning.  They couldn’t understand why I felt I needed the weekend off.  That’s many miles bridged from the rough beginning I chronicled last year when I insulted their cat in our first ten minutes together.  After that introduction, they were set on running me off, just like they had with all the others.

Except they didn’t.  And I didn’t leave, either.  We made it through the bumpy beginning, and the sailing just gets smoother every year.

 

 

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My stomach muscles hurt—in a good way—from laughing so much last week.  If laughter is indeed good medicine, then I should be in perfect health.  And, if I should ever need to get more of this good medicine in the future, all I need is a big dose of this picture:

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The bugs were formidable, but we found a way to avoid them.  And, in their usual form, these two find a way around obstacles—simply sip your drink through the straw through the net.  They’ve always figured out a solution to whatever comes their way.

Those early days on the farm were revisited with reverie and stories, recalling their youthful demeanor,

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Which hasn’t changed much in all these years.

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We enjoyed all our usual activities:  puzzling

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Yard games,

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Cooking, baking and grilling—followed by overeating.

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We took a little trip to Tana’s college town,

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the same college their parents met at, and the same college that honors their grandfather–their mother’s father.

 

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We swam in our backyard redneck pool,

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and in our neighbor’s real-deal pool.

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A fireworks display was offered courtesy of my son and a friend,

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followed by Tana’s karaoke rendition of Kansas’s own Martina McBride singing “Independence Day” the morning after Independence Day.  The flyswatter was handy for obvious reasons, so it became her microphone.  She’s always good at improvising when the circumstances may not be perfect.  Her voice is that of another talented Kansas wheat farm girl.

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Being the swheat girls they are, they took a trip to their family farm to enjoy the harvest.

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As a joke, I offered this garage sale find to Amy; she wasted no time putting it to use.  She says it’s the greatest treasure I have ever given her, and she plans to hand it down to her children as a family heirloom one day.  I planned to use it in an art project, but clearly, it belongs with her. 

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Proof she is truly a swheat girl

This year, we added yoga to the mix.  They, too, enjoy a good yoga workout, and since my teacher lives just down the road, she agreed to come over on the morning of the Fourth for some porch yoga.  She led us from the corner of the porch; the rest of the yoga-goers wrapped around the back porch. 

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If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, then these pictures should be worth many thousands of words, so I won’t write much more.  They tell the stories of the fun and laughter we shared last week.  Hopefully, I have made it quite clear that we felt free to exercise our independence this week, and throughout the other fifty-one as well. 

Tana and Amy have been constants for each other; they have no other siblings.  Through births and deaths, divorces and disappointments, they are sisters through thin and thick.   They know liberty because they earned it, and they honor it as the gift it is every day, not just on Independence Day.

I hope you find that well of liberty within, because it is a gift to be opened for each and every one of us, every day of the year.

Have fun, and laugh while you are doing it.  It truly is the best medicine.

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